Coordinated Attack on Eco Threats?

BALTIMORE--At the request of the White House, federal ecologists are following the lead of climate scientists and fashioning a blueprint for working together and with academia, according to agency officials who discussed the plan here last week at the Ecological Society of America's annual meeting. The idea? To better concentrate the government's scientific firepower on ecological problems involving "multiple stresses," such as a lake hit by both pollution and exotic zebra mussels.

For starters, the "Integrated Science for Sustainable Ecosystems" initiative, expected to begin in 2000, would beef up research in four areas--harmful algal blooms, habitat conservation, invasive species, and data networks--say officials with the White House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. Mark Schaefer, Interior Department deputy assistant secretary for water and science, says "a very high priority" will be getting academic researchers involved through extramural grants and cooperative agreements, and by having agency scientists set up shop at universities to work "side by side" with academics.

The initiative is timely, says University of Georgia, Athens, ecologist Ron Pulliam, former director of the National Biological Service, who adds that it carries "significant budgetary implications." The plan's price tag, which still must win approval from White House budget officials, will be revealed in the president's budget request next February; the big question is whether Congress will agree to pay the bill.